The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
Push to require clergy to report abuse stalls in Utah
SALT LAKE CITY — Lindsey Lundholm looked out over hundreds of people at the Utah State Capitol last year and felt a deep sense of healing. Abuse survivors, religious leaders and major party politicians were all gathered to rally for an end to a legal loophole that exempts religious clergy from being required to report child sexual abuse once it comes to their attention.
Lundholm, one of the rally’s organizers, recalled telling the crowd how, growing up as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Idaho, she told her bishop about her painful abuse only to see it go unreported.
Unearthing the trauma wasn’t easy, but back in August she hoped reforms
could be forthcoming so others would not face what she did.
“There was really a lot of momentum,” said Lundholm, now a teacher in northern Utah. “Everyone we were talking to was like,
‘This is a no brainer. This is something that needs to be changed.’”
It hasn’t. Proposals to reform laws that exempt clergy from child sex abuse reporting requirements went nowhere in Utah’s statehouse this year, failing to receive even a hearing as lawmakers prepare to adjourn for the year. Efforts were stymied by a coalition of powerful religious groups, continuing a yearslong pattern in which Catholics, Latterday Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses have defended the exemptions as survivors like Lundholm fight for reform.
In Utah, where the majority of lawmakers are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, state law requires most professionals — therapists, doctors and teachers among them — report abuse, yet clergy are exempt from alerting authorities about abuse they learn of through confessions.
Republicans and Democrats announced plans last year to reform laws that exempt religious clergy from reporting child sexual abuse cases revealed in conversations with parishioners.
Behind-the-scenes conversations between legislative leaders in Utah and what Senate President Stuart Adams said was “a broad base of religious groups” helped thwart four separate proposals to add clergy to the list of professionals required to report child sexual abuse.
“I think they have First Amendment rights and religious protections,” Adams, a Latter-day Saint himself, said, noting fears among religious leaders that clergy could be punished for breaking vows of confidentiality.
Each proposal was introduced or announced after an Associated Press investigation found that the Utahbased Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ sexual abuse reporting hotline can be misused by its leaders to divert abuse accusations away from law enforcement and instead to church attorneys who may bury the problem, leaving victims in harm’s way.
In lawsuits detailed in the investigation, attorneys from the faith widely known as the Mormon church have argued clergypenitent privilege allows them to refuse to answer questions and turn over documents about alleged sexual abuse.
Church officials declined to comment about the stalled legislative efforts. The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City did not respond to requests for comment but campaigned against them, saying in January that priests and clergy were different from other professionals mandated to report sexual abuse.